Rishad Saam Mehta goes salmon fishing on the Kymijoki River, and takes in the historic sights of Kotka, Hamina and Rankinkotka.

My shoulder felt as if it was being wrenched out of its socket. The line was so taut that it could very well have been a strand of steel as it reflected the mid-morning sun. The fibreglass rod was flexing to its maximum, and as I fought to keep a upper hand in this riverbank tug-of-war, I wondered what kind of monster had taken the bait.

I was in Finland, or to be more specific, five km north of the city of Kotka in Southern Finland at the Langinkoski Imperial Fishing Lodge on the salmon-stocked Kymijoki River.

The fishing lodge, though simple in its wooden construction, has a regal air to it.

Built in 1889 for the Russian Tsar Alexander III who visited Langinkoski frequently, it has been well preserved.

Visiting the lodge is like taking a peek into the past, as most of the furniture and even artefacts and cutlery are from back then. Naturally, this is a heritage structure and tourists can’t stay here, but its riverside forest setting is beautiful.

There are walking trails by the river that are scenic and serene. I had got myself a fishing permit from the tourist office in Kotka and, now, even as I sweated in the 10 degree cold, I was wondering who was having more sport — me or whatever was at the end of the line.

I wasn’t kept wondering about the latter, because, in a last-ditch effort, the fish broke surface to dive deeper. Its scales refracted the sunlight into a myriad rainbow of colours as the three-foot-long salmon twisted and turned mid-air to gain some slack and knifed back into the water. I was so stunned at the prize that had taken the bait that I almost dropped the rod. That fish got away, but there was more salmon coming my way the next day.

Mirror to the past

I had driven East from Helsinki to Kotka — a distance of 133 km on the E18. Kotka is an active industrial port, and its fortunes have long been tied to the sea. The Maritime Centre Vellamo ( www.merikeskusvellamo.fi/en) is a spectacular new museum that showcases this and recounts the maritime life of Finland. But more than this, I enjoyed the Maretarium ( www.maretarium.fi), which is more than an aquarium. The fish in the huge tanks, representing different bodies of water, are regularly fed by divers. The water is piped in from the sea to keep things natural.

I drove from Kotka to Hamina the next morning, a very charming 22 km drive on the E18 highway. As a border city between the 18th Century kingdoms of Sweden and Russia, Hamina has always been a melting point of cultures — a gate between East and West.

The city plan of the Hamina centre is unique with streets arranged in circles around the town hall, telling a story of its history as an old fortified town. In the centre, there are several buildings designed by German architect C. L. Engel in the 1840s. Hamina has always been a major garrison city and one of Finland’s largest ports. It has a large naturally beautiful archipelago that makes it an interesting destination, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring its craft shops and art galleries.

Even the Russians enjoy this, because the Finnish-Russian border is just 40 km away — the town sees a lot of day-trippers from Russia.

Just wandering about the town took me past its many sights and there is no fear of getting lost because the spoke-like streets of this circular city converge at the town hall that was built in the 18th Century. Behind the town hall is the Neo-Classical Hamina church. Yet another beautiful structure is the 1837-built Orthodox Church of Saints Peter and Paul. Its classic onion dome was designed by architect Louis Visconti, who designed Napoleon’s mausoleum.

Cosying up to Nature

That evening, we drove 10 km South of Hamina to Vimpasaari, and found Pertti Illi waiting for us. Pertti runs Vimpa Islands ( www.vimpa.com) an outfit that organises fantastic days out or cosy-back-to-Nature evenings along the archipelago. He got us all on his boat and we headed out to the Rankinkotka fishing village, stopping en route at a salmon trap that he had laid — it had caught three big fish.

Rankinkotka was a beautifully rustic island village with log-hut houses and big saunas. The Finns love their saunas, and we sat in them, alternating steaming ourselves with plunges in the ice cold sea. Sounds torturous, but it feels really good and refreshing. You feel as if you’re walking on air after that. Besides the sauna, there were walking trails around the village, and open fires where salmon was being slowly smoked. Smoked salmon is an absolute delicacy, and combined with sour cream and dill potatoes and a dash of chives, it makes a superb meal.

Tomorrow, I would start the drive from Hamina to St. Petersburg in Russia; it would be a long day on the road, but today, I was enjoying the crisp seaside weather, the warmth of pinewood burning and a sumptuous meal of freshly-caught salmon.

For more on this region, point your browser to www.visitfinland.com

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